Cambodian authorities never learned who shot UN volunteer Atsuhito Nakata and his Cambodian driver on a lonely Kompong Thom province jungle road in 1993.
Since then, his father has traveled the world as an honorary ambassador for UN volunteers, and at the spot where his son’s body was discovered, there now is a village supported by a Japanese foundation that Takehito Nakata created for that purpose.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng awarded him the Gold Medal for Nation Rehabilitation and posthumously awarded his son the Sahakmetrey Order, or medal for alliance building. “[Your son] sacrificed his life for peace,” Sar Kheng told Takehito Nakata during a meeting before the award ceremony.
Atsuhito Nakata came to Cambodia during the UN effort to ensure democratic elections in 1993. The country was under the supervision of Untac, and Nakata helped with voter registration and polling procedures.
On April 8, 1993, he and his driver left at 5 am to attend a 7:30 am meeting. They were later found on an isolated stretch of sandy road between Kompong Chhen Teal and Kompong Thom, shot in the back. Nakata, 25, was dead; his driver Peap died at the hospital without regaining conscience.
“When I got the phone call [about his death], my mind went blank,” remembered Takehito Nakata. He flew from Japan with his wife and daughter.
“Atsu had reportedly been violently attacked before being shot. I feared the body might be mangled beyond recognition,” he wrote last year. But a group of Germans and Indonesians prepared the body and perfumed the casket. “He looked as if he had grown tired and fallen asleep,” Nakata said.
He decided to have his son cremated at a Phnom Penh temple. “It was a beautiful day, and the cloudless sky was brilliant, almost dazzling blue,” Nakata said.
His wife had wanted to take her son’s body back to Japan. “But when I thought of how much just one or two dollars meant to the average Cambodian, and the huge amount of money it would take to bring Atsu’s body back, it seemed only right to suppress such feelings,” Nakata said.
When they went back home, Nakata changed his own life. “One thing that really bothered Atsu was people who idly chatter about events from a safe distance,” he said. “I was such a person. It was not that I did not do the impossible, but that I failed to do the possible.”
He became the first and so far only honorary ambassador for the UN volunteers.
Nakata has been touring the world and telling international donors about the efforts of countries such as Cambodia to maintain peace.
In 1995, Prasat Sambor district authorities created the village of Atsu. Nakata has donated nearly $298,000 for a school and development programs in the village of 873 people.
Nakata will visit Atsu village today.